What we and other organizations in Kosovo do is focusing on our common interests and how we can cooperate with others in the region to achieve common goals. At the end of the day, our societies are so similar that those are far more usual than most people realize, but they are there once you look at the facts and figures.
Kosovo signed the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU in 2015, which represented a major step in the EU accession process of Kosovo. How would you assess Kosovo’s progress since then?
Limited. The Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) was supposed to represent a turning point for Kosovo, the first binding, contractual agreement with the EU. It was expected to show the progress and matureness of the youngest state in Europe, but it showed it shortcomings instead.
To expedite implementation, the EU and the Kosovar government agreed on a European Reform Agenda (ERA), an exhaustive list of goals to achieve by the end of 2017. According to our latest report, the level of success in March 2018 was a notorious 38%. To some extent, since there is nowhere else to go, our politicians have accommodated to this situation, and they are in no hurry to move forward. At this pace it will take a decade to make the Agreement fully functional; while the economy remains stagnant and the opportunity slowly slips through our fingers.
An enhanced inter-institutional cooperation and a stronger commitment by all relevant stakeholders in order to improve the performance in achieving the objectives deriving from the SAA is crucial. The government should prioritize tasks undertaken by signing this agreement, in order to achieve proper progress and implement the necessary reforms.
One of the conditions for visa liberalisation for Kosovo was signing a demarcation agreement with Montenegro, which came into force this month. Do you expect some development of this process in the following period?
At this point, I am a bit sceptical about the issue. The ball is totally in the EU’s court and has been for some time now, but the EU is not united regarding the Western Balkans. The decision regarding the visa has been stalled in the Parliament since September 2016. There is no date to send it to the plenary, and that with the recommendation of the Commission and the endorsement of LIBE! At the end of the day, it is an internal matter in which our influence is only limited. Kosovo has done its part as, and now it is waiting for the EU to reciprocate.
It has been confirmed that the EU will not allow accession of the countries that have bilateral disputes, hence greater cooperation between the Western Balkan states in resolving these disputes is expected. In what way can CSOs speed up this process and contribute to regional reconciliation?
Our role is that of a facilitator, we build bridges between our societies. There is still a substantial animosity towards each other in the region, and people tend to remain in a national, or even nationalistic mindset.
What we and other organizations in Kosovo do is focusing on our common interests and how we can cooperate with others in the region to achieve common goals. At the end of the day, our societies are so similar that those are far more usual than most people realize, but they are there once you look at the facts and figures. Admittedly, we can only push with so much strength, but every contribution counts.
What do you consider to be the biggest challenge civil society in Kosovo is facing? What is the impact of the GLPS?
Kosovo, fortunately, has one of the best environments in the region for the civil society to act. Unlike in some of our neighbours, public institutions in Kosovo have developed a high level of tolerance to criticism and discussion, even though sometimes they complain that is not as constructive as they would like. On the other hand, there is still a very primary culture of activism, and most people outside of the institutions and certain limited groups fail to see the benefits of an active civil society. That substantially complicates outreach and ensuring a sustainable source of funding, but we have learned to cope with it through the years.
In fact, our experience is our greatest asset. GLPS is one of the oldest active organisations in Pristina, with more than a decade of analysis and advocacy on our shoulders. That entails a substantial brand recognition and reputation that has allowed us to push for some substantial policies along the years. The current framework for political party financing originated from our recommendations and lobbying, and lately, we have been very active in the field of disciplinary responsibility for judges and prosecutors, among others.
The GLPS is a member of the regional Think for Europe Network (TEN). How would you assess the significance of TEN’s work for the improvement and promotion of regional research? Can the added value of regional CSO networking serve as a good example for cooperation to the Western Balkan states?
Think for Europe Network represents one of the most excellent examples of Civil Society cooperation in the region, in many ways. First, under this umbrella, our organizations have been able to produce comprehensive and independent regional research and comparative analysis for some of the most pressing issues and common challenges of the region. Second, we have been very successful in further advocating our findings and recommendations either in local or regional context. It must be noted that the impact through the network has been tremendous thus far and the success was recognized beyond the region, by European and other renowned institutions.
On another note, being part of a credible regional network, such as TEN, has supported our member organisations to further sustain our credible image in the region and beyond, by regularly producing joint evidence-based policy research and propose concrete solutions for numerous policies currently being implemented in the region. The scope of research that TEN employs contribute towards some of the main policy requirements set out in the EU perspective agenda of the Western Balkan countries including Public Administration Reform and Rule of Law, amongst many others. To conclude, TEN has also enabled an enhanced cooperation among some of the leading organizations of the region and as a result, helped boost the role of civil society beyond their respective countries.
The GLPS also participates in the regional WeBER Project, which provided funding to four organisations for implementation of their public reform projects. Could you tell us something more about the results of these projects? What would you single out to be the biggest contribution and impact of the WeBER project in Kosovo?
As we are entering the final phase of the WeBER project, we must conclude that the impact that WeBER reached is remarkable and we are proud to have served as a partner for Kosovo. Public Administration Reform remains one of the key priorities towards the EU integration process of the Western Balkans, and commitment towards progress in implementing PAR is being reiterated regularly by the EU representatives.
As for Kosovo, the impact of WeBER project is manifested in multiple ways. First and most important, WeBER has enabled an increased inclusion and impact of Civil Society in monitoring the PAR, which has been almost absent for many years with only a few organizations directly engaged on this matter. Second, through WeBER National Working Group, we have been able to significantly increase the capacities of CSOs – particularly those working at local level – to monitor and engage with responsible institutions in implementing the PAR and further advocating for a proactive approach on this issue. Third, through WeBER we have been able to further enhance our cooperation with all relevant institutions dealing with PAR, provide concrete feedback deriving from an indicator-based PAR Monitoring Methodology as well as provide a regional perspective on the implementation of PAR, aiming to stimulate peer-pressure on the side of our government institutions.